WINNIPEG — The buzzwords have been flowing, but the only thing that really matters for the Winnipeg Jets right now is results.
For all of the talk about the all-important reset coming out of the NHL All-Star break, the harsh reality of the situation is that the Jets are going to basically need to play at a .600 clip for the remainder of the regular season in order to find a way back into contention.
Yes, the task is in fact as daunting as it sounds.
Winning three of five over eight separate segments is essentially what the Jets will need to do to make things interesting.
But at a time where a narrow focus was a requirement, the Jets stymied a Minnesota Wild team that entered the contest red-hot and riding a six-game winning streak (and had collected 19 of a possible 20 points in going 9-0-1).
In a 2-0 triumph on Tuesday before a crowd of 7,012 at Canada Life Centre, the Jets worked their way down the to-do list and earned a bunch of checkmarks:
Stingy defensive play.
Attention to detail.
Those qualities were all prevalent.
It’s no secret the Jets are going to need to lean heavily on goalie Connor Hellebuyck during the stretch run.
The resident workhorse looked refreshed and played a key role in keeping the Wild off the scoreboard, making 27 saves as he recorded the third shutout of the season.
“That's the game that we've got to play. We've seen it and we know we can do it,” said Hellebuyck, who made his 36th start in the 43rd game for the Jets. “So now we've just got to build confidence in it."
The more the Jets dig in and deliver efforts like this one, the quicker they will be able to rebuild that confidence.
Another player who has been under the microscope of late is centre Mark Scheifele.
Despite sitting third on the team in points, Scheifele’s goal production is lagging behind his normal rate and there have been times when his engagement level has been questioned.
In a session with reporters prior to the game, Scheifele admitted that things hadn’t gone smoothly during the first half and that he was hoping to change that after coming back ready to roll after taking a few days away from the rink.
When pressed for specifics on what he hoped to do better, Scheifele soaked in the question and smiled before making it clear that he didn’t care to explore the subject further.
Although we’re always looking for greater detail in an answer in the media, Scheifele knew exactly what he was doing. It didn’t matter if he laid out all of the things he could improve on, he needed to let his play do the talking for him in this instance.
Tuesday’s game was a good example — and not just because he scored his 11th goal of the season, converting a pass from Kyle Connor for a power-play goal that opened the scoring. Scheifele played a strong two-way game and led all forwards in ice time with just over 24 minutes of action, including some time at the end of the game when the Wild net was empty in favour of an extra attacker.
That was a bonus for a job well done over the course of the evening, Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry providing a reward for a player who can have a major impact on the team’s fortunes.
Earlier in the day, Lowry provided some positive reinforcement for Scheifele when asked about his first-half challenges.
“Mark is a student of the game. He has a very good understanding,” said Lowry. “Our expectation is that he’s the best player and he is our best player. You always like to hear that there’s more.”
Lowry knows that he needs more from Scheifele, even if he didn’t come right out and say it and chose to focus on the entire group instead.
That’s an important part of the job Lowry is auditioning for.
Scheifele knows that he needs to deliver more as well and how he performs during this next stretch could play a big role in terms of which direction this team could be headed.
A Central Division battle wouldn’t be complete without some intense moments and this contest featured plenty of them, beginning with a jarring neutral-zone hit from Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon on Wild forward Marcus Foligno at 7:17 of the opening period.
Mayhem ensued, with Wild winger Jordan Greenway coming to the defence of his linemate to get involved in a scrap with Dillon.
As that was happening, Foligno had collected himself and was looking for some revenge of his own, only to be intercepted by Jets centre Adam Lowry — who prevented Foligno from being the third man in and engaged him in a spirited fight of his own.
Lowry and Foligno weren’t done there, as they dropped the gloves again during the third period.
At the end of the second fight, after the linesmen stepped in to break things with both players on the ice, Foligno delivered his left knee to the head of Lowry.
“You know, that's something I don't really care for,” said Lowry. “But it’s the heat of the moment sometimes, your emotions get the best of you. I'll just leave it at that. He's a pretty honest player. I think he’d probably like to take that back if you could, but, you know, things happen.”
Not surprisingly, Foligno had a different take on the situation — even if the video evidence may have suggested otherwise.
“I saw them complaining that maybe I got my leg in there or something, but that was just me kind of ticked-off and trying to get at him,” said Foligno. “There was no intent to, you know, not throw with your fist or use another body part in there.”
The good news is that these two teams meet again next Wednesday, so the hostilities will quickly be renewed and the intensity figures to pick up right where this game left off.
The bad news is that the two teams won’t meet again, unless they somehow cross paths during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Wild look like a sure bet to reach the post-season, while the Jets are going to need to bottle up efforts like this one and ultimately solve the issue of inconsistency in order to make noise during the stretch run.
There’s no argument that this effort represents the template for how the Jets are going to need to play with more regularity. Whether or not they’ll be able to do that remains to be seen. When a team drops seven of eight games prior to a massive step forward, it’s always important to proceed with caution.
With games coming up this weekend against the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators on Friday and Saturday, the Jets will have an opportunity to show if efforts like this one — and the one two games ago against the St. Louis Blues — could represent the new normal or if it’s just another glimpse at what might have been.
This was a critical first step in that process. Nothing more, nothing less.
“We were dialed in,” said Dillon. “Just realizing that we need that desperation every game, we’re playing pretty much every other night now going forward. That is the blueprint right there.”
With 39 games to come over a span of 79 days, what is undeniable is that there is little room for error.